Subways are great. It’s an undeniable fact. They’re speedy, spacious, don’t take up space above ground, and, depending on the design, can make you feel like you’ve been catapulted back to the ‘60s, or forward to, well, the ‘60s. But only one can be the best – and that one is the Lisbon Metro.
Here are 11 reasons why.
There are just six interchanges – and two zones
Subways are great – but they're not so great if you’re got a hopeless sense of direction, as anyone who’s had to battle through NYC City’s some 468 stations will tell you (yeah, we can’t really work out how many there are). No such larks in Lisbon, there are just six interchanges on the whole network.
The inevitable map. There are also zones 2 & 3 further out, but the metro doesn't go that far.
Sure, you might not quite have the scope of the Big Apple to play with, but the apple isn’t real anyway and custard tarts are better. Plus it still gets you pretty much everywhere you want to go, minus the fights about which route is quickest. What’s more there are only two zones, so you don’t have to work out the most convoluted route in the world just to avoid Shoreditch High Street on the Overground.
This said, zone two (which is confusingly called zone one; the central zone is zone L, for Lisbon) only actually has three stops in it, so it’d be a bit of a bummer if you ended up living there.
They’ve totally embraced naming lines by colours
Tourists don’t get tube systems. Locals end up explaining to tourists using the colours of the line. This is the rule of any metro system, and who are we to change fundamental human nature?
The development of the network, 1959-2012. Image: EpicGenius/Wikimedia Commons.
So, imagine my wonder upon discovering that the Lisbon Metro is all about those coloured lines. There’s a yellow line: it’s called the yellow line. The red line is called the red line. The green line is named in honour of the colour I turned in envy when I saw this deliciously simple system. Which is, for the avoidance of any doubt, green.
The stations are accessible
Getting around the UK using public transport can be chaos as it is, let alone if you need to use accessible stations and trains. It’s been some some 26 years since the Disability Discrimination Act (later replaced by the Equality Act in 2010), which protects disabled people from discrimination across wider society, came into force; yet something as simple as getting on the tube can still be a massive issue.
Just 73 of London Undergrounds 270 tube stations offer step free access, only slightly more than a quarter. An extra £200m was committed to created a step-free tube in 2016, but even this will only take the number to 100 – which eagle eyed mathematicians will note is still less than half.
Jump over to Lisbon, and while it’s by no means a perfect picture, 30 of the 50 stations are marked as having disabled access: that works out at 60 per cent.
It’s gloriously unbusy. Like, really
No, really. It was so un-busy the first time I got it I went back during ‘rush hour’ on purpose and it looked like this.
Where is everybody?
There are countdown clocks which operate by the second
I’m from a village in rural North Devon, which means getting public transport is an exercise involving looking at a damp timetable stuck to a lamppost and hoping something might turn up in the next hour. Even in most bigger cities, the metro system will only give you the time you’ll be waiting for your train in minutes.
Lisbon pulls out all the stops though, and you can see how many seconds – yes, seconds – it is until your tube is going to arrive Your dreams of being able to sing countdown as tube arrives have come true.
Note the countdown.
The hanging cords don’t swing and smack you
It’s a commuters worst nightmare: not only are you packed five centimetres closer to another human being than you’d ever wish to be, but then the stupid cord you’re supposedly hanging onto for support crashes you into them full frontal.
Not so in Lisbon, where the hanging cords are made of sturdier stuff, and your personal boundaries can live to see another dawn.
There’s a refreshing lack of adverts
In the interests of transparency, I’d like to state at this point that I did track down some ads – namely one for Burger King and a Simon & Garfunkel gig, which sounds like a wild night – but nowhere near the scale you’d see here in the UK. In fact, these were the only two I found.
A recent report from Transport for London showed they were the biggest holder of advertising space in the UK. In 2016-17, it hosted some 16,000 different adverts drawing in some £142.1m in cash by bombarding Londoners with pictures of West End shows, weird head skull shavers, and essays about Jack Daniels posted on literally any available space.
While I accept it’s a good money earner, it’s a bit of cheek that the operator say commuters actually appreciate the distraction.The latest TfL report claims that 60 per cent of commuters say adverts are a welcome distraction. Did they even notice the Clapham Common cats campaign?
I, for one, am all on board with the Portuguese approach and freedom to daydream. Hell, they’ve got the advertising spaces, they just haven’t filled them up.
There’s 4G on all the lines
Yep, even underground. It’s magical. I’m not entirely convinced it’s planned, but it’s pretty great.
Tickets are valid for 24 hours from the point of use
This is honestly a revolution, and is probably the last serious point we’ve got for you, but golly it’s a good one. It’s a simple premise: buy your day ticket and it’s then valid for 24 hours from first use. So if you buy it at 3pm on a Sunday, it’s valid until 3pm on Monday.
By way of contrast, if you find yourself in a similar situation in London, your day pass will only work up until the last tube that day.
You also don’t need a deposit to get a reusable card. The Lisbon Metro dolls out reusable (and non plastic) cards for a mere €0.50 a time.
There’s an announcement that sounds like a friendly grandfather clock
The beeps of commuter trains haunt me in my sleep. This, though, sounds just like the grandfather clock in my nan and grandfathers’ house. Cute.
It’s in Lisbon
The Tyne & Wear Metro might go to the beach, but it’s not quite the same.
Uncredited images courtesy of the author.